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One word has been coming to my mind over and over again: grace. And the more I've thought about grace, the more I've realized that it's not present enough in my own life and in the lives of many people who follow Jesus. I know we're just sinful human beings and that those of us who are ministry leaders will never lead perfectly. But if there's one thing we should get right in ministry, it's grace. I've got a bookshelf full of books in my office on theology, youth ministry, and following Jesus. I've got a spot on my desk where I save past issues of youth ministry magazines full of articles on youth ministry and how to do it better. On top of that reading, I subscribe to several blogs and leadership podcasts, hoping to find nuggets of wisdom that will help me be a better youth pastor. But I haven't even yet begun to master grace.
Now, I'm as big a fan of learning as the next guy. Well, maybe not every "next guy" is a fan of learning, but I am. I went to math camp as a kid, and I would have stayed in school to get a few more degrees if they hadn't started making me actually pay for some of it. But it seems a bit of a silly picture to me that I'm trying to master the finer points of leading teams, casting vision, managing projects, teaching, and copying Andy Stanley, when I spend very little time searching the unimaginable mysteries of the fact that though I deserve less than nothing, I have been given everything. That's grace, but I've only just begun to understand what it means. And I'd be willing to bet that many of us are in the same boat, and so this week we'll look at a few of the reasons grace is important in youth ministry. Here's the first one:
(1) We're not just saved by grace. We're called to serve by grace.
Let me just put this out there: A lot of youth pastors feel entitled to their job. I know, because I've been there. And when we feel entitled to something, we start to complain when it's not everything we think it should be. To remedy this, some words from Paul are fitting:
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.
-1 Timothy 1:15-16
Let me paraphrase that and apply it to your context for a minute: "Jesus came to Earth to save sinners, and you're the most screwed-up of them all. But that's part of the reason God saved you, so that people could see that if God can save and use someone as messed up as you, he can save anyone."
If a youth pastor doesn't understand grace, it will affect the whole of his or her leadership in ministry. It will affect how we teach, how we treat others, and what our priorities are. But if we seek to be so enamored with the fact that we have been given grace, with the fact that eternal life in Jesus and everything in addition to that is a gift, then perhaps people around us and the people we lead will be enamored by grace as well. And if a youth ministry, if a church is enamored by grace, by Jesus' free gift of life, by God's giving heart, then that's a youth ministry and a church that can't help but tell everyone in town about Jesus.
So, if you're a youth ministry leader, please know that grace starts with you, and whether you understand grace and see everything God gives as a gift will dictate how you lead. Always remember that...
- Your life is a gift
- Your salvation is a gift (that cost Jesus his own life)
- Serving in youth ministry is a gift
If we don't understand those three things, then all the podcasts in the world can't help us.
UPDATE:You can read part 2 here and part 3 here.